Thursday, 31 December 2009

Jo and Emma's Festive Feast: Bites of Beef Wellington, duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage, satsuma granita cranberry soup

I finally cooked for Emma yesterday in the festive no-man's-land that is the days between Christmas and New Year. There was no need for Jo to text pictures this time. The remit was for a sumptuous dinner containing duck and red cabbage. There were also 15 no-no's including baked beans (has anyone actually served baked beans at a dinner party?), "lemon based savoury dishes" and my favourite "egg-sandwich style eggs". After much planning the menu was:
Bites of Beef Wellington
Duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage
Satsuma granita
Cranberry soup with floating islands

Bites of Beef Wellington

Succulent fillet steak on puff pastry with a duck pâté and mushroom duxelle. You only need a small amount of duxelle otherwise it overpowers the beef.

Duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage
Duck breast with a hash cake made using duck leg meat with red cabbage braised in balsamic vinegar

Satsuma granita
Refreshing crystals of satsuma ice to cleanse the pallet, presented in the shell of the satsuma

Cranberry soup with floating islands
A cranberry soup with poached meringues. Dried cranberries are incorporated into the meringues to give another texture. The soup has a bitter after note and needs work. The only fault of the menu.

Bites of Beef Wellington
100g beef fillet
Fresh thyme
Puff pastry (ready-cook)
100g Duck pâté
[NOTE: I used the magnificent Duck Liver Paté with Apricot Brandy from Patchwork Pâté. Foie gras would work very well too]
1/2 onion, finely chopped
100g button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 egg yolk

1. Roll out the pastry and cut in to circles about 1.5" in diameter. You'll need three circles per person. Glaze with egg wash and prick with a fork (to prevent the pastry puffing too much) then bake as per the packet instructions, typically 15min at 220°C.
2. Once baked remove from the oven and allow to cool.
3. Fry the onion in butter until soft. Add them mushroom and cook until dry.
4. allow the onion and mushroom to cool and then mix thoroughly with the pâté.
5. Liberally "season" your chopping board with thyme, salt and pepper. Roll the steak in the herbs until thoroughly coated on all sides. Wrap in cling film and chill.
6. To cook the steak, make sure it is at room temperature, then sear on all sides in a hot pan to get a brown crust and a rare interior. Leave to rest for a few minutes before carving into thin slices.
7. To serve, put two slices of steak on each pastry disk and top with a quenelle of pâté.

Duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage
1 duck leg and 1 duck breast per person
1 medium potato per person
1 onion, finely chopped
For the braised cabbage:
1 red cabbage, shredded
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 English eating apples, sliced
1 pack of smokey bacon, chopped
1oz demerara sugar
150 ml balsamic vinegar
1. Roast the duck legs for about an hour at 160°C. There's no need to add any oil or fat. Once cool strip all meat from the bone.
2. Fry the onion in butter until soft.
3. Boil and mash the potatoes.
4. Mix all the ingredients, then shape into rounds. Fry in butter until brown on top and bottom. Transfer to a baking tray. Bake at 180°C for 10-15 minutes.
5. Combine all the ingredients for the cabbage and either bake, covered at 160°C or put in a pan over a low heat until the cabbage is soft and vinegar has been absorbed/evaporate. This could take anywhere from 1-3 hours.
6. For the breasts, slit the skin to reveal the fat layer. Fry skin side down for about 6 minutes. turn and brown the under side. Then transfer to an oven at 180°C for 6-8 minutes (this will give a pink finish to the duck).

Satsuma granita (taken from Simon Hopkinson's Week In, Week Out)
500ml satsuma juice (14-20 satsumas)
4oz sugar
Juice 1 small lemon
1. Put a metal tray in the freezer.
2. Whisk all the ingredients together.
3. Pour the liquid into the tray and return to the freezer. Leave for 20 minutes.
4. Once ice crystal have formed about 2-3" from the edge of the tray lift the crystals into the areas in the middle where the liquid has not frozen.
5. Repeat every 20 minutes for approximately 2 hours, until the liquid has all frozen into soft crystals.
6. Serve the granita heaped into reserved satsuma cases.

Cranberry soup with floating islands - WORK IN PROGRESS
150g cranberries per person
1/4pint water per person
1oz butter
1 orange, juiced and zested
4oz sugar
For the meringues:
2 egg whites
2oz caster sugar
3oz dried cranberries
4oz caster sugar
1/2pint water
1. Fry the orange zest in the butter and remove before it colours.
2. add the cranberries and water to the pan and bring to the boil. boil until the cranberries start to split.
3. liquidise the mixture and pass through a fine sieve into a clean pan.
4. Reheat and add the sugar (or more to taste).
5. For the meringues, whisk the egg white until stiff. then gradually add the sugar until stiff. fold in the cranberries.
6. In a frying pan dissolve the remaining sugar in the water. Gently poach quenelles of meringue in the sugar stock for 4 minutes.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Egg-cellent presents

I'm always a tad wary when it comes to presents, I dread some awful "foodie" gadget that I'll never use. Nearly all the newspapers feature gift lists in the run-up to Christmas and invariably feature top ten foodie gifts and they are invariable full of a complete load of tosh.

I've not done too badly and fortunately never received anything that I didn't really want or wouldn't use. This year my sister came up trumps and gave me an egg, full of egg related gadgets. It brought a smile to my face when I opened them all!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Updates are required on a few things, so here goes:
  1. First of all, the bad news: I didn't win the Matthew Walker Christmas Pudding Competition. The entries were pretty varied but quite a few variations on a theme. The winner was Sabrina of Sabrina's Passions with a rolled fillet of pork stuffed with Christmas pudding.
    The judges felt that all of the entries were of an excellent standard - and it was a tough job picking the overall winner. Sabrina's entry however was really unusual and creative and she had taken the savoury take on the Christmas pudding recipe to another level. The recipe instructions were really clear, so that readers would be able to recreate the recipe to a high standard too.
    Quite similar to my ballotine of duck, but a little more elegant.
  2. More bad news, I didn't get into the last eight of the AA Home Cooking Competition. Mind you the winner, Rachel from Cook Your Life, clearly blew me out of the water. Her Fennel Dusted Lamb with Puttanesca Salsa, White Onion Puree & Beluga Lentils sounds great and was a cut above mine originality and flavour combinations. Clearly, I'm gonna have to up my game. Although well cooked, I think my recipe was just too "traditional". (P.S. Sabrina came third!)
  3. To try and keep the effects of festive excesses at bay I shall be doing the 100 push ups and 200 sit-ups challenges.
  4. The Krispy Kreme Challenge video should be done soon...

Friday, 18 December 2009

Cantina del Ponte

Cantina del Ponte
Had a night out tonight at Cantina del Ponte (yet another D&D place) with 5 bestest buds. I've previously eaten on the terrace next to the river, although it was a bit cold for that tonight.

We booked on a toptable deal and the offer menu was rather good. Almost all of us chose the same meal:

bresola con rucola e slasa al gorgonzola
cured beef, rocket, blue cheese dressing

Unfortunately the rocket overpowered the salad. Mind you the blue-cheese dressing was not particularly strong so it wasn't hard to mask its flavour
faraona con pastinaca, cavolo nero, aglio ed alloro
pan fried guinea fowl, roast parsnips, black cabbage, garlic and bay leafGreat hearty winter dish. Beautifully cooked guinea fowl: crisp skin and moist meat. The Parsnip chips were an excellent accompaniment. I'm not entirely sure what serving a bay leaf on the spinach actually added.
torta al cioccolato e polenta, mascarpone alaa vaniglia
chocolate & polenta cake, vanilla mascarpone

The cake was rather more solid and dry than I was expecting. There was also some kind of candied citrus peel involved, which was a most unwelcome addition.

Annie had the penne con crema di castagne e rucola (penne, chestnut cream & wild rocket) for her main and that was delicious. The chestnut cream sauce (note: must find out how to make it) was phenomenal and the rocket was a perfect accompaniment this time.

The service was excellent, as I've come to expect from a D&D place. Even though we were in there from 7pm on a Thursday night it was very quiet but the atmosphere did pick up as more people arrived. Somehow we were the loudest table (this is a recurring theme when I eat out with this bunch of bandits).

We had three bottles of house red and a glass of port each. The bill came to a very respectable £35 each. All in all a very good night and I would definitely recommend the Cantina for a quality Italian meal.

Cantina Del Ponte on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


This is hilarious:

Top 10 biggest food network foodgasms of 2009

I can't decide which is my favourite:

Just in case you're not sure what's going on here check the Urban Dictionary definition of foodgasm.

Chicken popcorn and corn fritters

Delicious and tasty supper tonight made from things just in the fridge and store cupboard: spicy chicken popcorn and corn fritters. I can imagine the popcorn being great as TV snacks too.

Chicken popcorn:
2 chicken thighs, diced
3dsp plain flour
1tsp Cayenne pepper
1tsp Paprika
1tsp Chilli powder
1tsp Dried oregano
Worcestershire sauce
Corn fritters:
Small can of corn, drained
Plain flour
1 egg

1. Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and cover with milk. Add approx. 1dsp Worcestershire sauce.
Leave to tenderise.
2. Mix the flour, salt and seasonings together in a large bowl.
3. Drain the chicken and then toss in the flour.
4. Fry quickly at a high temperature.
5. Mix the milk, egg and flour to make a thick batter. Add in the corn. Season.
6. Fry dessert-spoons of the mixture until brown.

NOTE: Self-raising flour or bicarbonate of soda could be added to make the corn fritters fluffier.
NOTE: This would be good served with a small herb salad and some sort of tomato salsa/dipping sauce.

Feeding the 5000

Today a free lunch made from delicious ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted will be prepared for 5000 people. Our aim is to highlight the ease of cutting the unimaginable levels of food waste in the UK and internationally. Find out more at

The event is being run with help from Fareshare, the UK's largest food redistribution charity. This is an event I whole-heartedly support and will be looking to volunteer with Foodshare in the new year.

Rosie Boycott covered the event in her column in the Evening Standard:

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Middle eastern fair

On my recent holiday to Dubai, I was looking forward to trying out some authentic middle-eastern cuisine. However, this proved more difficult than you would imagine.

In the malls (of which there are many) I was able to track down some Lebanese fast-food, which consisted of meat, chips, bread and hummus. Not unappealing but lacking in tradition, surely?

Saj Express - chawarmaMashawi Express - shish taouk classic

On my first night I did go to Karam Beirut which seemed much more authentic although I've never had such strong garlic sauce in all my days. I was amazed to find that it's far easier to get anything but middle-eastern food:

Julie & Julia

On the way over to Dubai I watched Julie and Julia a Nora Ephron film based on Julie Powell's blog "The Julie / Julia Project"

Watch the trailer care of YouTube.

Julia Child was an American chef who brought French cookery to the masses. Julie Powell's blog was about her trying to cook all the recipes from Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.

The film cleverly, and effectively, switches between Child's post-war experiences in France as she writes the book and Powell's challenge to cook the recipes. Meryl Streep gives a very strong character performance, but I have no idea how close it is to the truth. Apparently Child was an American icon, if Streep's performance is near the truth then she was certainly a striking individual.

The film is quite engaging but it is far easier to relate to Childs than Powell. Just what was Powell's motivation - was she after her 15 minutes of fame? It's a question that lies unanswered at the end of the film. It is clear that Childs loved food and was unapologetically enthusiastic about it too.

It a gentle film that probably hold more for foodies than most (there are a few sequences of excellent foodporn) but I can't imagine that I'll actively watch it again. It's a movie to watch when it's on TV, don't rush out and buy the DVD.

ICCHFC - Christmas Charity Cake Bake

Part of the reason for the break in ICCHFC activities was a Christmas cake bake in aid of the Samaritans hosted by the Communications team (although all the members of the ICCHFC submitted cakes).

The sale raised over £200!

Cakes on sale included: Yule log, chocolate biscuit cake, banana loaf, Nutella cinnamon cake, gingerbread, cranberry, pecan and white chocolate cookies, carrot cake, mince pie cakes, fruit cake, fairy cakes and a Victoria sponge.

ICCHFC - Week 15: Raspberry Bakewell cake & Week 16: Flapjacks

Louisa started off round 3 (week 15) with the choice of :
  • Carrot cake
  • Gingerbread men
  • Raspberry Bakewell cake
The Bakewell cake won by a country mile. Unfortunately there's no picture nor recipe...yet.

Sara followed up with flapjacks for week 16. The choice was what extras would be added into the mix: chocolate chips, cherries and walnuts or apricot and pumpkin seeds. Unsurprisingly chocolate chips were the most popular addition.I wasn't there for the tasting but apparently the flapjacks were
Gooey chocolaty loveliness

according to Jo. So, good work Sara!

Sara's Chocolate chip flapjacks (taken from Delia online)

4 oz light brown soft sugar
6 oz butter
1 dessertspoon golden syrup
6 oz porridge oats
150g chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C).
2. Place the sugar, butter and golden syrup together in a medium saucepan and heat until the butter has melted.
3. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the porridge oats.
4. Press the mixture out over the base of the prepared tin, and bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes.
5. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before cutting into oblong bars.
6. Leave until cold before removing the flapjacks from the tin, then store in an airtight container.

In my absence it was agreed to have a holiday hiatus until Monday 11th January when Jo will be producing some cakey delight.
PS Sorry about the delay I was on holiday and there's been a cakey hiatus!

Monday, 14 December 2009


Lunch today was care of the German Christmas market that has popped up outside Canary Wharf tube station. They are selling:
  • Bratwurst - German sausage
  • Krakkauer - spicy sausage
  • Curry sausage

The sausages are boiled and then finished on a massive 8' grill that's been set up in the middle of each hut. There's authentic, slightly spicy Continental ketchup and mayonnaise available too.

The sausages are good, but they come in a half baguette rather than the smaller traditional roll. Consequently the sausage:bap ratio is all wrong: too much bread not enough sausage. Nevertheless a tasty, if not expensive (£4.50 a pop!) festive treat. After all, everyone love a sausage!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Takeaways - Chowder pie

Last night I had a fish pie for dinner. I'd prepared it a while ago and frozen for just such a night when I wasn't in the mood to cook. Nothing too remarkable about that, I hear you say. And I'd agree, normally.

This fish-pie was the last one from a batch that I'd specially prepared as a take-away meal for a pair of friends...

Jo was going to visit Emma in Norwich for the weekend. Last time Jo had been round to mine it was for an AA tasting and she'd been teasing Emma with pictures of the meal as she ate. Emma felt rather hard done by that she'd missed out. One of them suggested that I should prepare a "take-away" for Jo to take up next time she went to Norwich. Thus the idea was borne.

I'm pretty sure it was a joke at first and neither of them really thought I'd do it. However, I've been thinking for some time about how to make cooking a bigger part of my life. One way may be to provide bespoke meals. This was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

The brief from the girls was a meal that was:
  • healthy and light
  • easy to prepare
  • not full of smelly stuff like garlic (so as not to scare off the boys!)
My first thought was some sort of pasta bake but that just seemed too easy and clichéd. Prompted by some items in the fridge I went for a fish dish: a cross between fish pie and a chowder.

Happily it worked rather well. The girls were very complimentary and enjoyed the lot.

Straight from the oven

All gone!

Chowder pie recipe

Smoked haddock (undyed) - 2 fillets
Cod - 2 fillets
Lemon sole - 1 fillet
1 bay leaf
1/2 Red onion
4 rashers smoky bacon
1 small tin of corn
Crème fraîche
2oz Butter
1 egg yolk

1. Gently poach the fish. Put the fillets in a frying pan and just cover with milk add a bay leaf and poach until cooked (3-5 minutes). If there's a lot of fish it would be better to do it in batches. Reserve the poaching liquid.
2. Cool the cooked fish and gently flake carefully removing any skin and bones into a large bowl.
3. Fry the smoky bacon in a little vegetable oil until crisp.
4. In the same pan as the bacon, fry the red onion until soft.
5. Combine the bacon, corn, onion and peas with the fish flakes. Add crème fraîche and Tabasco to taste. Season to taste.
6. Cook the potato until soft and then mash. Use butter and a little of the poaching milk, the mash should be reasonably dry. Beat in an egg yolk to the finished mash.
7. Assemble the pie by filling the dish 2/3full with the fish mix. Then top with the mash.
8. Bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes or until the top has browned.

Fire and Knives

Just seen that Fire and Knives has launched. It is
a print quarterly of new writing about food. We give established writers a place for work that would not be published elsewhere; new writers a place to show themselves and experts in other fields an opportunity to write about our favourite subject.

Sounds very interesting. A year's subscription is only £20. Is it a coincident that the launch happily occurs when people are in the market for presents?...

I think I'd be more than happy to receive this.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Snow-Flecked Brownies

My second monthly bake from Sweet and Simple Bakes was snow-flecked brownies. I was going to see my friends and sister in Liverpool so a batch of brownies seemed a suitable gift. They definitely went down well: apparently my sister's friend thought I should
Open a brownie shop

Not that I can any credit as all I did was follow a recipe.

Brownies have now been added to my list of things I want to perfect. Although these brownies are pretty damn near perfect, I might not have to search much more!

375g best quality dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
6 eggs (large)
350g caster sugar (superfine)
1 teaspoon salt
225g plain flour
250g white chocolate buttons or chips, or white chocolate chopped into chunks (or your own choice of chocolate)
2 tsp icing sugar, for dusting
Tin measuring approx 33cm x 23cm x 5.5cm

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F.
2. Line the sides and base of a 33 x 23 x 5.5com baking tin with foil or baking parchment.
3. Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a large heavy based pan.
4. In a bowl or wide mouthed large measuring jug, beat the eggs together with the caster sugar and vanilla extract.
5. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool a little, then add the egg and sugar mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt. Then stir in the white chocolate buttons or chopped white chocolate. Beat to combine then scrape and pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin.

I had to use a roasting pan!

6. Bake for 25 minutes, You can see when the brownies are ready because the top dries to a slightly paler brown speckle, while the middle remains dark, dense and gooey. Even with such a big batch you do need to keep checking on it: the difference between gungey brownies and dry ones is only a few minutes. Remember, too, that they will continue to cook as they cool.
7. To serve, cut into squares while still warm and pile up on a large plate, sprinkling with icing sugar pushed with a teaspoon through a small sieve.

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